People often ask whether sugar and carbohydrates are the same thing. The reason for this confusion is simple: carbohydrates consist of sugar molecules and are broken down into sugar in the digestive system. Fruit also contains large quantities of carbohydrates due to its sugar content. Indeed, fructose is thought to be a key factor in the development of metabolic syndrome.
However, not all carbohydrates are the same, and neither are all sugar molecules. To help us calculate the effect of different sugar molecules in our bodies, we use the glycaemic index (GI). This is a ranking system that was introduced in the early 1980s to show the impact of various carbohydrates on blood glucose levels.
The sugar contained in low GI carbohydrates takes longer to be digested and broken down, so the blood sugar level rises more slowly too: a highly desirable effect!
Glycaemic load is a measure that takes into account the amount of carbohydrates in a portion of food. For example, when we consume foods rich in mono- or disaccharides, such as grapes or household sugar, the sugars are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream and our blood sugar levels surge. Large quantities of insulin need to be produced in order to convert the glucose into energy or store it for later use. After a sugar-rich meal, we initially experience very high blood sugar levels, swiftly followed by a sugar crash and, more often than not, food cravings. When we eat complex carbohydrates, however, ideally in combination with fibre-rich foods, our blood sugar levels rise more slowly; this causes only small amounts of insulin to be released and we feel fuller for longer.
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